Hepatitis A is an inflammation (swelling) of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus.  Most people who have hepatitis A recover completely.  Once people recover, they are immune for life to the hepatitis A virus (i.e., their bodies produce antibodies which will protect them from re-infection).

  • How it's spread

    Hepatitis A virus is found in the feces (stool) of infected people.  The virus can be spread by sexual activity involving fecal/oral contact such as rimming (anal/oral sex), anal sex, handling a used condom after anal sex, or fingering your partner’s anus and then putting your finger in your mouth.

    The virus can also be spread through exposure to contaminated food or water.  It can be passed by someone infected with the virus who does not wash their hands carefully after a bowel movement and then touches something you eat.

  • What are the symptoms?

    Thirty per cent of adults show no symptoms.  Most people develop flu-like symptoms such as loss of appetite, severe fatigue, fever, and stomach upset.  Other symptoms may include dark urine, light-coloured stools, abdominal discomfort, and/or jaundice (yellowish skin or eyes).

    Symptoms usually appear two to seven weeks after exposure and can last up to several months.

  • How is it diagnosed?

    Hepatitis A is diagnosed through a blood test.  If you test positive for hepatitis A, your health care provider will order blood tests to evaluate liver function.  Follow-up blood tests are repeated to assess recovery.

  • What are the complications?

    Hepatitis A rarely causes serious illness or death. Unlike hepatitis B and hepatitis C, there are no chronic carriers and no long-term consequences of having had hepatitis A.

  • How is it treated?

    Hepatitis A usually clears up on its own in four to six weeks and does not require treatment.  People with hepatitis A should make sure to get plenty of rest and avoid alcohol, fatty foods, and any substances that are toxic to the liver, including acetaminophen.

  • What about my sexual partner(s)?

    If you have hepatitis A, anyone you live with as well as any sexual contacts should receive the hepatitis A vaccine. They may also be given immune globulin which, if given within two weeks of exposure, can help prevent a hepatitis infection from occurring.

  • Follow-up

    It is a good idea to have regular check-ups with your healthcare provider until you have completely recovered from the infection.

  • Prevention

    There is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis A.  The vaccine is given in two doses six months apart.  All people at high risk for infection should consider receiving the vaccine, including close contacts of a person with hepatitis A infection, men who have sex with men, and injection and non-injection drug users.   This vaccine is also recommended for people with chronic liver disease (including hepatitis C), people infected with HIV, and people who travel to regions with inadequate sanitation.

    Other prevention measures include washing your hands carefully after bowel movements, after sex, before making food, and before eating, drinking or smoking.  Make sure genital and anal areas are clean before having sex.

    Hepatitis A vaccine side effects
    Most common: Soreness and redness (mild and short-term) at the injection site
    Uncommon: Fever, fatigue, headaches, and flu-like symptoms

    Rare: The risk of developing a severe allergic reaction (hives, difficulty breathing, and/or swelling of the face or mouth) is extremely rare (less than one in 500, 000).  It usually occurs within the first 15 minutes after the injection so you should remain in the clinic for 15 minutes after each dose of the vaccine.  If you have a severe allergic reaction to the first dose, you should not get the second vaccination.

    Note: There is no evidence that hepatitis A vaccination causes any chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or Guillain-Barre syndrome.

    Other forms of hepatitis
    We also have information about hepatitis B and hepatitis C.